Book Review: The Republic of Imagination – Azar Nafisi

The Republic of Imagination coverTitle: The Republic of Imagination: America in Three Books
Author: Azar Nafisi
ISBN: 9780670026067
Pages: 352
Release Date: October 21, 2014
Publisher: Viking
Genre: Nonfiction, Social Studies
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 out of 5


In the fashion of Reading Lolita in Tehran, author Azar Nafisi turns her sharp literary eye to her adopted country of America, closely examining three different books: The Adventures of Huckleberry FinnBabbitt, and The Heart is a Lonely Hunter to discuss the culture of the United States.

Snapshot Review:

A gorgeous and moving read about American culture through the prism of three modern classics, The Republic of Imagination: America in Three Novels is a thoughtful work of literary criticism that shows how novels remain relevant long after they have been published.

Full Review:

Azar Nafisi’s latest nonfiction book delves into an investigation of the United States, closely looking at different aspects of American culture through the lens of three different American classics. The book is structured into three sections featuring the three books—The Adventures of Huckleberry FinnBabbitt, and The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. Each section also deals with a different aspect of American culture.

The first, and in my opinion the most effective, is The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. In this section of The Republic of Imagination, Nafisi discusses the sense of American freedom and the spirit that American culture seems to be imbued with, juxtaposing this against the story of Nafisi’s close friend, who spoke out against the Islamic regime in Iran and has recently died. It’s a beautifully written testament to her friend, as well as a thoughtful analysis of Huck’s search for a sense of self over the course of the book. (In retrospect, this might have been the most powerful section of the book for me because it’s the only one of these three American classics I’ve read.)

The second part of The Republic of Imagination deals with Babbitt by Sinclair Lewis, which Nafisi uses to discuss the Common Core Standards in the United States and how they are crippling the American education system. While this section was certainly interesting, it was so focused and topical that it was a little jarring and blended less with Nafisi’s overall exploration than the other two sections of the book. Still, it was certainly interesting, and though I knew most of the criticisms leveled at the programs, it certainly would be eye-opening for anyone not familiar with Common Core.

Finally, in the last section of The Republic of Imagination, Nafisi tackles The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers, a book I know little about. I found this section fascinating, and while I found the Huck Finn discussion the most effective in terms of getting the message across, it was this third part I found the most interesting, simply because I learned a lot. Nafisi discusses in detail how the characters in this American novel are singular in their loneliness and want nothing more than to connect with others, a state that many Americans find themselves in. This discussion made me intensely curious about The Heart is a Lonely Hunter; I’ll definitely be reading it in the near future.

If you enjoy reading works of literary criticism and are curious as to how classic novels can be made relevant to our modern-day lives, then The Republic of Imagination: America in Three Novels is absolutely a great choice. It’s interesting how Nafisi often focuses on the central theme of escapism in American literature, and how so much of the United States’ culture is based on imagining something better, something grander. Nafisi is a beautiful, thoughtful writer, and this is a fascinating read.

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  1. I had trouble with Reading Lolita in Tehran, mostly because I am so unfamiliar with Iranian history, but this sounds a bit more accessible.

  2. I’m excited to read this — such a gorgeous cover! I’ve learned a few things about Nafisi’s politics since Reading Lolita in Tehran came out, and I’m a little worried that’s going to affect how I come to her essays. But hopefully not! (I’ve only read Huck Finn out of these three books, too.)

  3. I would definitely have to read all three books before this one.

  4. I don’t read a lot of literary criticism, but I would certainly like to read her section on Huck Finn, if nothing else. I’m going to re-read that classic this year when my oldest’s high school English class tackles it (and I’m so looking forward to it!), so I may pick up Nafisi’s book to go along with it.

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